Why show up if everyone else wants to run the proposal show? Ask the Proposal Doctor

Dear Proposal Doctor,

All of a sudden, everyone on my team is obsessed with fonts and kerning and other aspects of desktop publishing. People who should be worried about the solution and the price are weighing in on the appearance of the document. Everyone has an opinion on the best color scheme, margins, headers, footers, and text boxes.

Isn’t this my domain? Shouldn’t I have the final say on this? Why is everyone else trying to do my job? What is the point of my showing up for this proposal if everyone else wants to take control of these decisions?

Feeling Powerless

Dear Feeling,

First, you are not powerless. One of my favorite quotations is from Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” You can – and should – do three things.

First, as the proposal manager, it is fair that you ask for a meeting to clarify roles and responsibilities with your management chain. At that meeting, you can point out that decisions about the appearance of the document should be made by people with subject matter knowledge on the topic of document layout. No one would let a desktop publisher develop a pricing strategy. No one would accept the opinion of a contracts specialist on how to write a resume. Each member of a proposal team brings specialized knowledge – and that of desktop publishing and proposal management professionals should be respected to the same degree that we respect the knowledge of solution architects. Based on that logic, the decision should be back in your court. If others want to express an opinion, that is their right. It doesn’t mean you have to listen to it or accept it.

Second, work with the desktop publishing expert in your organization (maybe that means you) to identify some external sources of expertise on this topic. Pick a respected source. It could be a style manual from a professional association or a research article showing how readers respond to certain types of layouts. This will objectify, add validity, and reduce the likelihood of opposition. It is much harder to refute a respected source than it is to argue about someone’s opinion.

Third, establish a template based on that external source as the default format going forward. Then you can adjust, as required, to each RFP.

Finally, to address your question as to why others want to weigh in on fonts and margins, all I can say is that this is a great way for them to avoid doing their work. I believe it was Hemingway who said that whenever he faced a blank page on his typewriter, he had an insurmountable urge to clean his refrigerator. You can – and must – take back control. Courage!

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor